Sunday, 21 February 2016

Mr. President, can you tarry awhile?

Mr. President, can you tarry awhile?

By: Yomi Odunugaon

Dear President Muhammadu Buhari, pardon the route through which this open letter gets to you. I know that as one of those people who damned the consequences and risked everything in the bid to make possible your presidential ambition, it wouldn’t have been unusual to have an opportunity to discuss the issues I am about to raise here in the corridors of power, away from the prying eyes of the wailing wailers. By that, I refer to those who see absolutely nothing good in your emergence as President, especially the way you thrashed an incumbent who had no option other than accepting defeat. Let me hasten to note too that you genuinely appreciated the way former President Goodluck Jonathan swallowed the humiliating defeat with inexplicable equanimity while you moved into that palatial edifice called Aso Rock.
Needless to say that some of us were truly shocked beyond expression at the aplomb with which you shrugged off your decades of Spartan lifestyle and embraced the stupendous luxury and splendour that the Presidential Villa offers. I guess, in life, certain things cannot be hidden. The difference is getting clearer by the day. For instance, we read that Your Excellency ‘improved’ on Jonathan’s use of Mercedes-Benz S 350 that costs $135,000 for the non-bulletproof edition of Mercedes-Maybach S600 which non-bulletproof version is around $258,000. That’s okay. After all, we know it is the responsibility of the state to do everything within its might to protect you.
However, we knew from experience that there is something beyond our understanding about that place that changes otherwise humble men into arrogant demi-gods. We are living witnesses to how easy it was for certain past occupiers of that seat to lose their humanity; they not only get corrupted by power but got corrupted so absolutely. If we may excuse the despicable reigns of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha based on their foundation of jackboot mentality, what do we ascribe to the irascibility of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo or the detached cluelessness of Jonathan? Though we may not have seen enough of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua to properly place him in our long history leadership crisis, the little that we could remember of him speaks volume about the failures in our recruitment process. Naturally, we were worried that in due time, you may join the bandwagon of leaders who loaf around in aloof manner in the luxury of government houses while the populace wallow in poverty, realising at a late hour that nothing has really changed enough to give them hope.
Mr. President, it is just some eight or so months into your four-year tenure and hope is already fizzling away. That is the crying truth. Unfortunately, it is a bare-knuckle fact those who mill around you might not be able to tell you. Baba Buhari, there is anguish in the land. The people in the streets are beginning to ask critical questions about the form and shape of a change that seems to be in perpetual motion without movement. The excitement of a new dawn wanes daily. It is not that these hapless Nigerians have not read or heard about your spirited battle against corruption and corrupt practices. They know how deep the sore is and how painful the blisters can be. They are equally abreast of the earth-shaking details regarding the unbelievable looting bazaar that was freely perpetrated by some privileged Nigerians during the last administration and that ultimately resulted in the economic quagmire the country has found itself. Our people fully support your efforts to trace and recover the entire stolen commonwealth running into trillions of Naira no matter where they are hidden. Even your harshest critics would attest to that objective as non-negotiable, going by your famed zero-tolerance for corruption.
Be that as it may Mr. President, quite a number of your staunch supporters think you have started derailing too early in the day. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that you are increasingly treading the same path to perdition that Jonathan ignominiously trod with astonishing naivety. Somehow, you are gradually losing touch with your base, the constituency of the voiceless majority that voted you into power against all odds. Question – a big one for that matter – equally hangs on your humanity. No matter the spin your very media-savvy aides put on it, there is something wickedly wrong with that visit to Ogun State earlier in the week, to felicitate with its people, on the 40th anniversary of the state. It was, to say the least, a bad time to party. It was a cruel insult on the memories of the over 80 lives lost to the Dalori massacre perpetrated by the Boko Haram sect. The grim pictures of burnt children, scarred limbs and body parts should have been enough to sober the President on the need to tread with caution. Besides, the grisly details of the Dalori attack as recounted by eyewitnesses and many other narratives from the North-East call for a sombre reflection on the part of the government instead of the tasteless declaration of a ‘technical’ defeat of a group that routinely persists with its callous campaign of deadly attacks on defenceless citizens.
Unless you have chosen to flourish in self-deceit like your predecessor did, it is jejune illogic to whine that the Dalori incident and several others were aimed at embarrassing the administration. Hian! Even Jonathan did not run away with that sacrilege when he hugged the sky and frolicked with party faithful in Kano shortly after the deadly bomb blast in Nyanya, Abuja. Then we reasoned, and quite rightly so, that such tendentious excuses were meant for the marines. So, whosoever lifted that dumb gambit from the Jonathan tales of woeful whingeing for you did this administration no good. It is even more pathetic that, as I write this, the President is on a four-day junket to France and the United Kingdom while survivors of the Dalori massacre are chewing their pain in isolation. If we accused Jonathan of dancing on the graves of the slaughtered students in a school in Yobe State, why shouldn’t we marvel at the way you shook your head to Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey’s live performance in Abeokuta? Question is: Whither the humanity that was the thrust of the campaign era when nothing has manifestly shown that this administration is poised to do things differently?
Baba, as some people call you, do you know that an ominous pall of doubts hangs over your Presidency? To be honest, it is not just a mere gloating by those who don’t like the presence of an old man on that seat. It is more about glaring failed expectations. How was it possible that the 2016 budget comes with such humongous padding, even in the appropriations for The Presidency? What has changed if more money would be spent on buying exotic animals for the Villa Zoo, rehabilitating previously rehabilitated buildings and tending the culinary buds of Aso Rock tenants and their friends with hundreds of millions of naira? Why, for example, should Aso Rock Clinic get an allocation of N3.8bn to buy some unspecified medical equipment when the entire allocation for all teaching hospitals serving Nigeria’s 160 million populace gets much less than that amount for a similar purpose? How many sick Nigerians have access to such exotic health resort called Aso Rock Clinic anyway? Apart from the lower cadre staff, how many ‘big men’ in Aso Rock would entrust the clinic medical experts with the treatment of toothache or even minor flu?
Mr. President, you may need to tarry awhile and reassess the steps you have taken so far. While pointing an accusing finger at perceived enemies especially those who allegedly looted the country, it is important to avoid a situation where the remaining four fingers directly point back at the dreadful indiscretion of the Presidency. This Presidency is becoming estranged and alienated from the masses it claims to serve! Of course, Nigeria did not deserve a sit-at-home leader who loiters around while the international community beckons; it does not also require one that jumps into the presidential jet at every occasion travel opportunities come up. By the way, what happened to the vow by the President to reduce the number of jets in the presidential fleet? We heard that the United States’ President and the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister put together, have lesser number of aircraft than that of the Nigerian Presidency. Do we take it as one of the trickeries of electoral campaigns that becomes unrealistic immediately after the administration of the relevant oaths? By the way, is anyone taking an inventory of the President’s foreign travels, including the grave injuries such must have inflicted on the national treasury in this era of belt-tightening for millions of less-privileged souls? Of course, the cost might not be as high as the $1m per trip credited to it by the errant Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose. It is nonetheless important to know if the country gets value for countless junketing across the globe. By the way, your aides call it diplomatic shuttles but we are beginning to feel that the frequency of it in the last eight months is, to put it mildly, diplomatically irritating. Tarry awhile President Buhari, tarry awhile!
Past occupants of our Presidential villa have become people we hardly understand, even as they scoff at our criticisms and anxieties, which they perceive as mere indignities. For all the trials that many of your diehard supporters suffered to arrive at this auspicious occasion in which Sai Baba is now at the top, they just hope that President Buhari has not overshot the runway leading to the redemptive bend! They would like to believe that you have not become yet another victim of that virus in Aso Rock. They wait on time for the answer, your Excellency sir!

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